A Healthy Start

If you have followed us for a while you might remember our post about Elsa’s first meal. We were rookie parents but had an idea and a theory about what food we wanted to introduce to Elsa during her first years. Now 1 1/2 year has passed and we wanted to give you a recap on how things are going and how our theories are working for us, and most importantly, for Elsa.

Elsa is turning 20 months soon. She has still never had any red meat or poultry and she has never eaten any sugar, candy, cookies or ice cream. Around here that counts as something pretty spectacular, and not only in a good way. Many people seem to think that we are exaggerating about health. ”One ice-cream every now and then won’t hurt her”. You wouldn’t believe how many times we heard that sentence. And sure, they are right, she eats an ice cream and life goes on. But why? Elsa has never asked for ice cream, she doesn’t even know how it tastes. During a child’s first two years we as adults choose what food our children should eat. And they learn from this. It’s a responsibility. If someone wants to give Elsa an ice cream, it’s not because she wants it, it’s because they want to give it to her. Remember that.

Our intention has never been to be harsh or mean to her, we have just offered her better alternatives when the other kids got candy. We want to give her a clean start in life, and so far she has never complained about it. The truth is that she loves vegetables, beans and fruit. And as long as we can offer her that instead of an ice cream, we will.

Anyone who has met Elsa will tell you that she is an admirable happy and calm kid. She looks healthy and she has been blessed from almost all normal child ailments. No ear infections, eczema, rashes, constipation, diarrhea, picky eating, irritated bowel, sleeping problems and hyper activity. A part of this is probably just pure luck, but we believe that her diet has also played a role here.

Since many of you have asked us for advices, we’ve put together some simple guidelines and tips on healthy children’s food. These things have worked for us and Elsa, hopefully they can help some of you as well. We won’t quote any doctors or scientists. There are facts supporting our opinions and probably facts who don’t. Believe what you want, that’s what we do.

Here are the basics

Try to reduce or eliminate gluten and dairy products during your baby’s first years. They can be hard to digest for anybody, but especially for young children. Even if they are not allergic or intolerant, many people can react to these food irritants.

No sugar during your baby’s first years. Sugar tastes good but has lots of downsides. It causes hyper activity, lower the immune system and can lead to dental caries, to mention a few. We also have our own theory about sugar. Once you start offering sweets, it will be harder to get children to try things that are not sweet. The longer you prolong the introduction of sugar, the more open your children will be towards trying new foods and eating their greens. Which makes life a whole lot easier for yourself.

If you are a vegetarian, raise your children to be the same until they are old enough to express their own opinion. Why give your child something that you would’t eat yourself? They get plenty of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals from vegetables, eggs, oils, fruit, beans, lentils, seeds and nuts. Give supplements suited for small children (read more here).

Our 10 tips how to give your children a healthy start in life
These tips are generally for 1 year old children and older. If you have younger children you might want to read this post that we did a year ago.

1. Agree.
Talk everything through with your partner so you both agree on why you do this. If you don’t agree, every dinner will be an issue. Next step is to talk with your families and to help them out with food suggestions. Otherwise you won’t be invited to any more dinners ;)

2. Don’t make it too hard.
Don’t change your and your child’s eating habits to the impossible. Find a level that you and your family can live with. We decided that Elsa can eat fish when she stays with other families or in day care, even though we don’t eat it at home. It makes life easier for them, plus she get lots of good fats and proteins from it.

3. Be a good role model.
The most important thing is not what food you put in front of your children, but what you eat yourself. That is what your children will want to eat as well. We never make special food for Elsa, everybody eats the same around the table. And we would never eat an ice cream in front of her if we weren’t ready to give her one.

4. Experiment with shape & texture
If a child does not like a certain food, try to cook it in different ways. It is not always the taste that children doesn’t like, but the shape or texture.

5. Boost with vitamins & minerals.
A simple trick to get some extra vitamins in your children is to blend it with their favorite foods. Add vegetable juice in bread or muffins. Shredded vegetables in pancakes. Frozen broccoli or spinach in berry smoothies (they won’t taste it), add super foods in porridge, juice or smoothies (nettle powder, rose hip powder, bee pollen, linseed, sesame seeds, chia seeds, hemp powder, goji, etc.)

6. Always bring a snack.
A difficult part with healthy eating habits is when your children see other children eating something and they want the same. It can be anything from a hot dog to an ice cream. We learned early on to always bring a snack or a fruit with us, so we can offer her that instead. If you look into Elsa’s backpack you will probably always find a hard boiled egg, a carrot, a fruit or some flour free pancakes.

7. Don’t get hysterical.
If you see your child with a cookie, don’t get hysterical and grab it from them, it will have the opposite effect. It’s only food and it is important to get a natural relationship with unhealthy food as well.

8. Encourage eating.
We have been very allowing around the dinner table. As long as she eats, we don’t mind if it’s with a fork, a spoon, a chop stick, a straw or her hands (soup can get pretty messy). The good part is that she eats (almost) anything that we put in front of her. If you set up too many rules around eating you will probably end up with a food strike. Keep it positive!

9. Try this!
Breakfast: Oat or buckwheat porridge with plant or nut milk and berries. Vegetable omelet. Tofu with stir fried vegetable. Bread with bean spread (for example hummus) or tahini. Boiled eggs and banana bread. Yoghurt with seeds and fruit compote.

Lunch: At Elsa’s pre school they cook vegetarian (or fish), dairy free & wheat free meals for Elsa. For example lentil soup, salmon lasagna (gluten free), soy sausages, potatoes and vegetables. Weekends we often eat leftovers, omelet, falafel, bean salad or breakfast twice…

Dinner: Some Elsa favorites; Vegetable stews with black rice, millet or quinoa, gazpacho, coconut milk soups with gluten free noodles, vegetable soups, oven roasted vegetables with dip, pizza, no-rice risottosushi salad, burgers & fries.

Snacks: Rice crackers with nut- or seed butters, smoothies & vegetable juices, fruit salad, bean salad, bread with hummus or pesto, leftover porridge, avocado and boiled eggs. Rye or spelt bread with almond butter, Quinoa or corn muffins.

10. Read more.
If you want to read more about the connections between child ailments and food we think this book is pretty good. “What’s Eating Your Child?” – The hidden connection between Food and Childhood Ailments, by Kelly Dorfman. The book is full of up-to-date research, specialists, E.A.T. program, good explanations and is written in a very understanding and helpful tone. All pediatrics should have an ex of this in their office.

Pheew, that was a loooong post. You made it through the whole thing. Congrats. As a reward we promise to have a really nice recipe ready for you next week.

63 Comments

  • I love your blog and really like this post. Very useful for parents with little kids.
  • Thanks a lot for sharing your experience. It's exactly the way I want to do it one day, when I have children. I loved that post, thank you very much!!
  • It absolutely pays off to try to give your child as many healthy options as you can. Though we're not as strcit with our daugther (18 months), we also try to make fruits, vegetables and wholegrains a major part of her diet. Luckily she never wanted milk herself, but loves to eat cheese and yoghurt, which are great calcium sources for someone who is not against dairy in general (and are usually better to digest than milk). Definitely, avoiding sugar is probably the best thing you can do for your child. The things our daughter asks for most often is water (she's never had any sweet drinks, not even juice), apples, bananas or cheese. So, you're absolutely right, children get used to and will develop a taste for (pretty much) whatever you offer them in their early years. Take that responsibility!
  • Very information-rich post! I agree with most of the points in it, especially on sugar. I tried to slow down as much as possible the introduction of sugar in my son's diet and I am very happy I did so. Everytime he's having fruit juice it is always diluted 1:3 (juice/water) even if it contains fruit sugars only. This helps him to get used to a less intense sweet taste. Now when he wants juice he wants it diluted and if is not enough he asks me to add more water. I think the tastes we experience in our childhood will stay with us as adults too. So better get used to less sugary tastes. I am a bit confused about the dairy free diet though. I know it's not good for older kids and adults, but why it is not goo for toddlers? Basically, their entire diet up to 6 months is 100% milk (human or substitute) and milk remains their main food up t 1 year olds and then still accounts for a large amount of total food intake during the second year. Why do you say they don't need it? I would like to learn more about this, and will be very grateful if you find some time to reply to me! Thanks in advance!
    • Hi Sneige. Thanks for your comment :-) and your question. 1 year: Human babies don't need cows milk, they can't digest it. They do need mom's milk or formula (which is designed to be digested for babies) We chose goat milk formula when I stopped nursing Elsa about 10 months old, goat formula is even easier to digest than cow milk based formula. I don't recommend whole milk (casein and lactose) to babies and toddlers at all. 2 year: Natural cow yoghurt is fine, it still contains casein so it should not be consumed everyday. Cheese is fine to (not every day either) there are many different kinds; cow, goat, sheep etc, just choose a good quality and vary if possible. Calcium and magnesium are the primary arguments that children need dairy products. You can actually get those important minerals from other food groups, like nuts and seeds (we grind them into butters). Most plant milk (and plant yoghurts like soy or oat) are enriched with minerals and vitamins. There are a lot of research, books and article about why a little or no dairy are good for children, so if you're interested to read more just google it. Cow milk can cause: ear infections, stomach problems, constipation, diarrhea, mucus production, provoke allergies etc. And then again some children are fine drinking and eating dairy. /Luise
    • Thank you very much for your reply! I am happy I did the right thing when I chose goats milk over cow's milk after my son turned 14 months. Although he eats abundantly dairy products including cow's yogurt and cheeses, I am trying to give him plenty of broccoli for calcium intake. Teaching kids about optimal nutrition is the best thing we can do for them. Thank you again for your great post! Best regards!
  • vintagesoul
    i also don't have children yet, but my niece is obsessed with candy. her parents don't mean for it to be this way, but in our society everyone is so quick to give children sweets, and they are in every house for guests when they come over. i think that's the greatest challenge where i live - controlling what others feed children in a communal society. i want to thank you for this post, and ask that you not apologize for what you are doing for elsa! most people don't know the dangers of the food they eat every day, but should not make you feel bad for not taking the same risk. health is an undervalued, misunderstood concept, and i admire you for working so hard to maintain it, especially for your beautiful little girl.
  • What a great post! I am a few years away from having children of my own, but this post got me thinking a lot about what I eat (and the foods that I respect and trust) and how this translates into eating with others in general. Elsa is certainly lucky to have such thoughtful parents!
  • Kendall
    Thank you for this article! It is so encouraging to read a simple, positive story and get practical advise at the same time. The big bad world can seem so daunting at times that you feel like it's impossible to live a simple, healthy life anymore. But just hearing that somewhere in the world there is a family that is doing it, is enough to inspire me to keep trying.
  • Wonderful words of wisdom coming from such young parents. I am so very impressed. It wasn't until middle school that we took some educational viewpoints into our own hands. So many of your pointers fall in line with what we have faced on the educational front.
  • I love coming up with new dishes for my two year old and have been making her food from scratch since the very begining. Making sure that she gets great food has also inspired me to make better food choices for me and my hubby as well. Nowadays she usually eats the same food as us, with a few adjustment but I still love creating different healthy snacks for her.
  • I am pregnant with my first child and desperately want to raise my little one in a healthier environment than I was. I'm new to your site and already excited to read more. Thanks!
  • Nimi
    It makes me so happy to see this post, I don't have children but I already know this is how I would like to raise them, those first years are so important. I've read articles about the first 4 years of a child's life having a significant impact on their food and health choices later on in life. I'd say my sister and I are prime examples, she started out with full fat unhealthy foods but by the time I came around (6 years later) my parents had changed their dietary habits to a much much healthier style due to health problems. Fast forward to later in life and now my sister and I have almost complete opposite eating habits and health. The one thing that we are the same on is we both grew up mostly vegetarian and that is something that we have both stuck to.
  • I totally agree! Our first son, who is 4 now, didn't have sweets for quite some time. I always try to remind people that they don't know what sugar tastes like until you give it to them. We are sculpting their future and we need to have some consideration. With the obesity rates reaching such high levels, we need to start from the beginning in ensuring our children are given a proper foundation from which to make good decisions about food. I did a recent post on healthy eating tips for kids and you hit on several of the same points I made. People wonder why/how my kids are such good eaters but often they're not willing to listen to what I have to say.
  • Great post you guys. Very informative and to the point. We have a different diet in our home. I think the most important thing is to not be militant and to really help our kids enjoy food and have a healthy relationship with food.
  • You are setting such a great example for your daughter, and for everyone else in her life. I admire how much thought and effort you put into something that is so important to you. I work with children for a living and poor eating habits is the number one issue I hear from parents. You are right on about it being WHAT you introduce. Most kids I work with have eaten processed sugary foods and it extremely difficult to transition to new foods. I also loved the statement you made about Elsa not wanting something like ice cream, but that individual wanting to give it to her. Food for thought for sure. Thanks for sharing this. It was wonderful to read. Although I don't have children yet, I hope to follow in your footsteps.
  • I admire you! I'm sure these tips will be very useful to all parents and I'm pretty sure your Elsa has never been ill because of the food she eats!
  • Gotta say, I Love your words! I admire you for taking a stand and really putting the green in life out there! It is a you say..If you choose not to eat it, then why feed it to your children!? To make society happy and calm? Well, if we did not take out those "rebels" and "hippies" in us, who would change the world then? Who would spread the world on healthy awesome food. And above all.. What earth would we leave the precious amazing loving children with!? Love you to life! GrrreenLove Elenore
  • Thanks for an amazing post. I'm not yet a mother, that time will hopefully come in few years, but I'm already thinking about how it will be my responsibility to help my child to develop a healthy relationship with food and be a good example. it's good to see it's feasible and that there are ways to raise child on healthy food :)
  • [...] Some excellent advice and ideas on what to feed your baby and your toddler. [...]
  • Å vad fint! Saknar Elsa, men får ju träffa henne idag! Kram
  • Sarah
    I love this post! I don't have children yet, but I've watched many friends go through so many eating issues with their kids (picky eating, sugar crashes/meltdowns etc.). My friends always tell me, "Well, my kid won't eat anything but a chicken nugget." and I always wondered "how do they even know what a chicken nugget is?!" I love hearing about your tips. When I eventually have kids, I hope to follow the exact same guidelines. Thanks for the great post!
  • "During a child’s first two years we as adults choose what food our children should eat. And they learn from this. It’s a responsibility. If someone wants to give Elsa an ice cream, it’s not because she wants it, it’s because they want to give it to her. Remember that." I had never thought about it that way, but in many cases (beyond sugar of course) it's so true. "Once you start offering sweets, it will be harder to get children to try things that are not sweet. The longer you prolong the introduction of sugar, the more open your children will be towards trying new foods and eating their greens. Which makes life a whole lot easier for yourself." Also great advice. Having a solid foundation of healthy delicious alternatives means there is no tortuous need to do some silly diet later in life, because you're already eating well! This was a really great (and inspiring) article guys! Not preachy or pushy, and flexible. Certainly don't mind more posts like this, although the recipes are fantastic too.
  • This was very interesting to read and I totally understand and agree with you! Thanks for sharing a great post!
  • Jay W
    I loved this post even though I don't have children! Your approach to child nutrition is sensible and the opposite of preachy--Elsa is very lucky to have parents like you and Luise. I hope to get my diet to where Elsa's is soon. :) Great job, and... children's recipe book in the future? ;)
  • Thank you! I asked you about this on Facebook and I was hoping you'd respond :) Our little girl is only 7 months old but I already worry about food - mainly the food that OTHER kids eat. At her swim class, the 2 year olds get candy after class. This bothers me! But we need to find a way to not be super strict and crazy about food whilst also teaching her good habits and feeding her the best we can. Thanks for the book recommendation too, I'll definitely give that a look. You guys rock my world - thanks for all this!
  • "It’s only food and it is important to get a natural relationship with unhealthy food as well." Yes! Thank you for saying this. I, too, feel that having a healthy relationship with all sorts of food is almost equally important to choosing mostly healthy foods. For me, healthy eating is about making better choices as often as we feel we can, in a positive manner, rather than maintaining some form of restrictive purity. Marie-Anne: I am French and a vegan (currently living abroad, though). It's doable! I'm not knowledgeable on your particular health conditions but I hope you can find the support and inspiration you need -IRL or online- to eat the way you would prefer. Best of luck!
  • What a great article! Such good information here! My little girl just turned 20 months and I completely understand the issue with her seeing kids eating a sugary snack and wanting it as well. It has always worked to bring our own snacks.
  • I don't even have children yet and I can't tell you how happy this post makes me! Virtual hug to all 3 of you! My favorite part is when you wrote "If someone wants to give Elsa an ice cream, it’s not because she wants it, it’s because they want to give it to her." So very true! Thanks for posting this... and your little one is so adorable in her cozy sweater and berries : )
  • Lucy
    I loved this article. So thoughtful and helpful. Great work guys! You have truly given Elsa the best possible start.
  • Lately I've had a couple of serious health problems, one of which is related to a food and eating phobia (anxiety-related). Turns out I would like to reduce my gluten and dairy and red meat weekly intake, but I live in France, where full-fledged vegetarians are really, really frowned upon, and because of my current situation, raw veggies are especially difficult to swallow. Your post has inspired me to try out new stuff. Sorry for the rant, but just to say that your take on your child's diet is admirable and I hope I'll have the resolve and the creativity to do the same with mine. Elsa looks really super healthy. She's beautiful. Seems like you've got yourself one heck of a clever toddler too. Take care! xxx

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